Posts tagged ‘advertising’


Facebook takes away user control over their own advertising preferences

15.11.2019

Facebook’s advertising preferences are getting more useless by the day. Even a company as dodgy as Google has managed to keep its preference page working.
   Over the years I’ve been telling people that they can delete their interests from Facebook if they’re uncomfortable with the targeting, since Facebook gathers these interests even when you have opted out of targeted ads. Now, you can’t. If you’re on the desktop, Facebook just won’t show them to you. You can have this window open for hours for nothing to appear (and yes, I have tried regularly).

   Maybe you don’t have any, Jack? You just said you deleted them. Fact: I do have them, except they are only visible on the cellphone—and as usual they’re not that accurate. However, on the cellphone, these cannot be deleted or edited in any way.

   I also have a set of different ones if I export my Facebook data, but that’s another story.
   And remember when I said I opted out of alcohol ads, yet I still see plenty, especially from Heineken, which has even uploaded my email and private information to Facebook without my permission, and refuses to respond? (I may have to get the Privacy Commissioner to intervene again.) Facebook does say that opting out doesn’t necessarily work. In which case, you have to wonder why on earth the feature is there—regardless of what you toggle, Facebook does what it wants. Even Google doesn’t get this bad.
   Remember: Facebook offers you features, but they don’t necessarily work.
   And advertisers: Facebook’s audience estimates, by their own admission, have no bearing on the real population, and there is no third-party auditing. Even if you tailor your promotions, there’s no guarantee they’re even reaching the people you want. My interests are certainly incorrect—not that I can do anything about it so you don’t waste your money. Now multiply that by hundreds of millions of users.

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Big Tech and advertising: the con is being revealed

13.11.2019

People are waking up to the fact that online advertising isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.
   Last month, Bob Hoffman’s excellent The Ad Contrarian newsletter noted, ‘I believe the marketing industry has pissed away hundreds of billions of dollars on digital fairy tales and ad fraud over the past 10 years (in fact, I’m writing a book about it.) If I am right, and if the article in question is correct, we are in the midst of a business delusion unmatched in all of history.’ He linked to an article by Jesse Frederik and Mauritz Martin (also sent to me by another colleague), entitled ‘The new dot com bubble is here: it’s called online advertising’ in The Correspondent. In it, they cast doubt over the effectiveness of online ads, hidden behind buzzwords and the selection effect. If I understand the latter correctly, it means that people who are already predisposed to your offering are more likely to click on your ads, so the ads aren’t actually netting you new audiences.
   Here’s the example Frederik and Martin give:

Picture this. Luigi’s Pizzeria hires three teenagers to hand out coupons to passersby. After a few weeks of flyering, one of the three turns out to be a marketing genius. Customers keep showing up with coupons distributed by this particular kid. The other two can’t make any sense of it: how does he do it? When they ask him, he explains: “I stand in the waiting area of the pizzeria.”

   The summary is that despite these companies claiming there’s a correlation between advertising with them and some result, the truth is that no one actually knows.
   And the con is being perpetuated by the biggest names in the business.
   As Hoffman noted at the end of October:

A few decades ago the advertising industry decided they couldn’t trust the numbers they were being given by media. The result was the rise of third-party research, ratings, and auditing organizations.
   But there are still a few companies that refuse to allow independent, third-party auditing of their numbers.

   No surprises there. I’ve already talked about Facebook’s audience estimates having no relationship with the actual population, so we know they’re bogus.
   And, I imagine, they partly get away with it because of their scale. One result of the American economic orthodoxy these days is that monopolies are welcome—it’s the neoliberal school of thinking. Now, I went through law school being taught the Commerce Act 1986 and the Trade Practices Act 1974 over in Australia, and some US antitrust legislation. I was given all the economic arguments on why monopolies are bad, including the starvation of innovation in their sector.
   Roger McNamee put me right there in Zucked, essentially informing me that what I learned isn’t current practice in the US. And that is worrisome at the least.
   It does mean, in places like Europe which haven’t bought into this model, and who still have balls (as well as evidence), they’re happy to go after Google over their monopoly. And since our anti-monopoly legislation is still intact, and one hopes that we don’t suddenly change tack (since I know the Commerce Act is under review), we should fight those monopoly effects that Big Tech has in our country.
   What happens to monopolies? Well, if past behaviour is any indication, they can get broken up. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is simply recounting American history when she suggests that that’s what Facebook, Google and Amazon should endure. There was a time when Republicans and Democrats would have been united on this prospect, given the trusts that gave rise to their Sherman Act in 1890, protecting the public from market failures like these. Even a generation ago, they’d never have allowed companies to get this influential.
   Also a generation ago, we wouldn’t swallow the BS an advertising platform gave us without something to back it up. Right now, it seems we don’t have anything—and the industry is beginning to cry foul.


Lorie Shaull/Creative Commons Attribution–Share Alike 2·0

Regardless of your political stripes, Sen. Elizabeth Warren calling for the break-up of Big Tech made sense as recently as a generation ago.

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Facebook: no change, business as usual

24.10.2019

I would have loved to have seen this go to trial, but Facebook and the plaintiffs—a group of advertising agencies alleging they had been swindled by the social network—settled.
   Excerpted from The Hollywood Reporter, ‘The suit accused Facebook of acknowledging miscalculations in metrics upon press reports, but still not taking responsibility for the breadth of the problem. “The average viewership metrics were not inflated by only 60%-80%; they were inflated by some 150 to 900%,” stated an amended complaint.’
   Facebook denies this and settled for US$40 million, which is really pocket change for the multi-milliard-dollar company. Just the price of doing business.
   Remember, Facebook has been shown to have lied about the number of people it can reach (it now admits that its population estimates have no basis in, well, the population), so I’m not surprised it lies about the number of people who watch their videos. And remember their platform has a lot of bots—I still have several thousand reported on Instagram that have yet to be touched—and Facebook itself isn’t exactly clean.
   Every time they get called out, there are a few noises, but nothing ever really happens.
   This exchange between Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Mark Zuckerberg is a further indication that nothing will ever happen at Facebook to make things right—there’s no will from top management for that to happen. There’s too much to be lost with monetization opportunities for questionable services to be shut down, while Facebook is all too happy to close ones that don’t make money (e.g. the old ‘View as’ feature). The divisions and “fake news” will continue, the tools used by all the wrong people.
   It’s your choice whether you want to be part of this.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, politics, TV, USA | 1 Comment »


Verizon’s continued hypocrisy borne of pettiness

12.07.2019

Remember Tumblr, the platform owned by Verizon that I left?
   I left because of Verizon’s policies, of placing their corporate agenda ahead of the users.
   I went to NewTumbl instead—a site that Tumblr users might not know about, since Verizon has ensured that searches for its competitor come up empty.
   I was very surprised to find that Verizon Media has opened an account at NewTumbl—a site that they effectively tell their users does not exist.
   And what are they doing on it? Running their sit vac ads for free:


   It’s not technically in violation of NewTumbl’s terms, but what is interesting are their hashtags.
   One of the hashtags is sexy, albeit misspelled as sexu.

   Now, either you have to be sexy to work for Verizon (given the other hashtags used), or they are hashtag-spamming, in the hope their ads will be seen more widely.
   It is, basically, douchebag behaviour—but this also tells us that NewTumbl has them rattled. Why else would they advertise here instead of a regular job site?
   The effect on their brand is very negative—since people can see these ads for what they are: a cheap shot across the bow. This is how petty big US companies are. We see this from Google, so why not Verizon?

PS.: Unlike Big Tech and the bigger players in corporate America, I own up when I learn more. The Verizon account on NewTumbl was revealed to be a fake, and has since been deleted. However, Verizon’s censorship on Tumblr continues (you can’t find NewTumbl but you can find Pornhub—all hail their potential buyers!).—JY

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Volvo: boxy, but good

02.07.2019

Long before Mad Men, and before I got into branding in a big way, I had an interest in advertising. One of the greatest send-ups of the industry was the 1990 Dudley Moore starrer Crazy People, set in the advertising industry against a politically incorrect—actually, cruel and inaccurate—look at mental health. It’s one of those films that could never be made today, and for good reason. But there are some gems in it, as Moore’s character, Emory Leeson, embarks on “honest advertising”. It gets him committed to a facility—who ever heard of an advertising agency telling the truth, right?—until his ads become a hit, welcome by consumers who don’t want BS.
   I came across this wonderfully copywritten and set ad from a PR professional in London trying to sell his Nan’s 1981 Volvo 244DL:

   It’s bloody good. The copy kept me engaged—like all good ads used to—and he’s done a reasonably good job with the Volvo Broad headline typeface (it was wider back in the day). The body text type should be Times rather than Baskerville, but considering the exact cut of Times isn’t available digitally (to my knowledge; it’s for larger text, and has very short descenders), there’s no wonder he opted to use another family.
   It got me thinking: I’ve often posted the Crazy People Volvo ad in comments, as a humorous response. However, the ad doesn’t exist in a decent res online. The only ones that have wound up online are from screen captures from the movie. This 22 kbyte file is actually the best one around, save for one on the Alamy stock photo website that I found after the fact:

   I couldn’t re-create the image—I assume the only person who has it (or had it) is the art director of the film, or the photographer that was commissioned—but maybe I could have a go at the type?
   The digital Volvo Broad had to be widened 25 per cent, and I didn’t attempt to match the kerning.
   The body type was the interesting one. I opted for Times Headline, since it wasn’t at a text size, but as I discovered, Volvo used a particular cut that had short descenders and was slightly condensed. I tried to match the leading.
   Therefore, here it is, offered under Creative Commons with attribution to me for the typesetting, please, while noting the image is not mine:

   And sometimes, I use my powers for good.

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Posted in cars, humour, marketing, typography | No Comments »


How to lose readers: accuse them of something they don’t or wouldn’t do

11.06.2019

Here’s a sure-fire way to lose readers and cost you ad revenue.
   It seems Haymarket’s Autocar (which I have been reading in print since 1980) wasn’t pleased about people using online ad blockers, so it created a warning.
   The trouble is I don’t use ad blockers. In fact, you can see a massive advertisement underneath the warning:

In fact, that ad keeps changing, so I guess the advertiser is charged for totally useless impressions.
   Clicking ‘I’ve disabled my Ad-Blocker’ does nothing.
   I decided to click the other option, for advice on how to whitelist the ad blocker that I do not have.

I presume whatever’s in that blue box are the instructions, which are illegible.
   Autocar often talks about the difficulties behind some car infotainment interfaces, but you’d hope a publisher with a budget that far exceeds mine would get this right.
   The irony of this effort is that Autocar winds up losing ad revenue.
   I have Tweeted them, so here’s hoping this silly tech can be removed so I can help their bottom line. You do wonder about their bosses sometimes though—maybe this sort of abrasive behaviour comes from the top.

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Why paywalls are getting more prevalent; and The Guardian Weekly rethought

10.11.2018

Megan McArdle’s excellent op–ed in The Washington Post, ‘A farewell to free journalism’, has been bookmarked on my phone for months. It’s a very good summary of where things are for digital media, and how the advent of Google and Facebook along with the democratization of the internet have reduced online advertising income to a pittance. There’s native advertising, of course, which Lucire and Lucire Men indulged in for a few years in the 2010s, and I remain a fan of it in terms of what it paid, but McArdle’s piece is a stark reminder of the real world: there ain’t enough of it to keep every newsroom funded.
   I’ll also say that I have been very tempted over the last year or two to start locking away some of Lucire’s 21 years of content behind a paywall, but part of me has a romantic notion (and you can see it in McArdle’s own writing) that information deserves to be free.
   Everyone should get a slice of the pie if they are putting up free content along with slots for Doubleclick ads, for instance, and those advertising networks operate on merit: get enough qualified visitors (and they do know who they are, since very few people opt out; in Facebook’s case opting out actually does nothing and they continue to track your preferences) and they’ll feed the ads through accordingly, whether you own a “real” publication or not.
   It wasn’t that long ago, however, when more premium ad networks worked with premium media, leaving Google’s Adsense to operate among amateurs. It felt like a two-tier ad market. Those days are long gone, since plenty of people were quite happy to pay the cheap rates for the latter.
   It’s why my loyal Desktop readers who took in my typography column every month between 1996 and 2010 do not see me there any more: we columnists were let go when the business model changed.
   All of this can exacerbate an already tricky situation, as the worse funded independent media get, the less likely we can afford to offer decent journalism, biasing the playing field in favour of corporate media that have deeper pockets. Google, as we have seen, no longer ranks media on merit, either: since they and Facebook control half of all online advertising revenue, and over 60 per cent in the US, it’s not in their interests to send readers to the most meritorious. It’s in their interests to send readers to the media with the deeper pockets and scalable servers that can handle large amounts of traffic with a lot of Google ads, so they make more money.
   It’s yet another reason to look at alternatives to Google if you wish to seek out decent independent media and support non-corporate voices. However, even my favoured search engine, Duck Duck Go, doesn’t have a specific news service, though it’s still a start.
   In our case, if we didn’t have a print edition as well as a web one, then online-only mightn’t be worthwhile sans paywall.

Tonight I was interested to see The Guardian Weekly in magazine format, a switch that happened on October 10.
   It’s a move that I predicted over a decade ago, when I said that magazines should occupy a ‘soft-cover coffee-table book’ niche (which is what the local edition of Lucire aims to do) and traditional newspapers could take the area occupied by the likes of Time and Newsweek.
   With the improvement in printing presses and the price of lightweight gloss paper it seemed a logical move. Add to changing reader habits—the same ones that drove the death of the broadsheet format in the UK—and the evolution of editorial and graphic design, I couldn’t see it heading any other way. Consequently, I think The Guardian will do rather well.

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More lies: Instagram’s separate (and now possibly secret) set of ad preferences

02.09.2018

This post was originally going to be about Facebook lying. It still is, just not in the way originally conceived.
   Those who follow this blog know that, on Instagram, I get alcohol advertising. Alcohol is one of the categories you can restrict on Facebook. Instagram claims that it relies on your Facebook ad preferences to control what advertising you see. That is a lie, and it’s still a lie even as of today (with an ad for Johnnie Walker in my feed). I turned off alcohol advertising in Facebook ages ago, and it’s made no difference to what I see on Instagram.
   What it doesn’t tell you is that Instagram keeps its own set of advertising interests, which can be found at www.instagram.com/accounts/access_tool/ads_interests, but it’s only accessible on the web version, which no one ever really checks out. When I last checked on August 18, you could still see a snippet of these interests, and they are completely different to those that I have on Facebook (where I go in to delete my interests regularly, something which, I might add, I should actually not have to do since I opted out of interest-based advertising on Facebook, which means that Facebook should have no need to collect preferences, but I digress). You cannot edit your Instagram ad preferences. They are, like the Facebook ones, completely laughable and bear no resemblance to my real interests. Advertisers: caveat venditor.

   As of now, Instagram no longer lists ad interests for me, though those alcohol ads still show up.

   So, Instagram lies about Facebook ad preferences affecting your Instagram advertising, because they don’t.
   And as late as August 18, because Instagram kept its own set of preferences, it was lying about its reliance on Facebook ad preferences.
   And today, Instagram might still be lying because while it doesn’t show your preferences on Instagram any more, Facebook ad preferences still have no effect on Instagram advertising. As far as I can tell, even though the Instagram ad preference page is blank, it still relies on a separate set of preferences that is now secret and, as before, not editable.
   But we are talking Big Tech in Silicon Valley. Google lies, Facebook lies. You just have to remember that this is par for the course and there is no need to believe anything they say. Even in a year when Facebook is under fire, they continue to give ammo to its critics. This makes me very happy now that there is a body—the EU—that has the cohones to issue fines, something that its own country’s authorities are either too weak or too corrupt to do.

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Zuckerberg was either wilfully ignorant or lied during his testimony about ad data collection

17.04.2018

Either Mark Zuckerberg is woefully ignorant of what happens at his company or he lied during his testimony to US lawmakers last week.
   As reported by Chris Griffith in the Murdoch Press, Zuckerberg said, ‘Anyone can turn off and opt out of any data collection for ads, whether they use our services or not.’
   Actually, you can’t. As proven many times on this blog.
   If you’d like to read that earlier post, here it is.
   This is still going on in 2018, and confirmed by others.
   I can’t speak for shadow profiles because I am a Facebook user.
   Summary: Facebook will ignore opt-outs done on its own site and at industry sites, and compile ad preferences on you. Been saying it, and proving it, for years.

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Cambridge Analytica is merely Facebook’s ‘smaller, less ambitious sibling’

14.04.2018

Beyond all that had gone on with AIQ and Cambridge Analytica, a lot more has come out about Facebook’s practices, things that I always suspected they do, for why else would they collect data on you even after you opted out?
   Now, Sam Biddle at The Intercept has written a piece that demonstrates that whatever Cambridge Analytica did, Facebook itself does far, far more, and not just to 87 million people, but all of its users (that’s either 2,000 million if you believe Facebook’s figures, or around half that if you believe my theories), using its FBLearner Flow program.
   Biddle writes (link in original):

This isn’t Facebook showing you Chevy ads because you’ve been reading about Ford all week — old hat in the online marketing world — rather Facebook using facts of your life to predict that in the near future, you’re going to get sick of your car. Facebook’s name for this service: “loyalty prediction.”
   Spiritually, Facebook’s artificial intelligence advertising has a lot in common with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica’s controversial “psychographic” profiling of voters, which uses mundane consumer demographics (what you’re interested in, where you live) to predict political action. But unlike Cambridge Analytica and its peers, who must content themselves with whatever data they can extract from Facebook’s public interfaces, Facebook is sitting on the motherlode, with unfettered access to staggering databases of behavior and preferences. A 2016 ProPublica report found some 29,000 different criteria for each individual Facebook user …
   … Cambridge Analytica begins to resemble Facebook’s smaller, less ambitious sibling.

   As I’ve said many times, I’ve no problem with Facebook making money, or even using AI for that matter, as long as it does so honestly, and I would hope that people would take as a given that we expect that it does so ethically. If a user (like me) has opted out of ad preferences because I took the time many years ago to check my settings, and return to the page regularly to make sure Facebook hasn’t altered them (as it often does), then I expect them to be respected (my investigations show that they aren’t). Sure, show me ads to pay the bills, but not ones that are tied to preferences that you collect that I gave you no permission to collect. As far as I know, the ad networks we work with respect these rules if readers had opted out at aboutads.info and the EU equivalent.
   Regulating Facebook mightn’t be that bad an idea if there’s no punishment to these guys essentially breaking basic consumer laws (as I know them to be here) as well as the codes of conduct they sign up to with industry bodies in their country. As I said of Google in 2011: if the other 60-plus members of the Network Advertising Initiative can create cookies that respect the rules, why can’t Google? Here we are again, except the main player breaking the rules is Facebook, and the data they have on us is far more precise than some Google cookies.
   Coming back to Biddle’s story, he sums up the company as a ‘data wholesaler, period.’ The 29,000 criteria per user claim is very easy to believe for those of us who have popped into Facebook ad preferences and found thousands of items collected about us, even after opting out. We also know that the Facebook data download shows an entirely different set of preferences, which means either the ad preference page is lying or the download is lying. In either case, those preferences are being used, manipulated and sold.
   Transparency can help Facebook through this crisis, yet all we saw from CEO Mark Zuckerberg was more obfuscation and feigned ignorance at the Senate and Congress. This exchange last week between Rep. Anna Eshoo of Palo Alto and Zuckerberg was a good example:

   Eshoo: It was. Are you willing to change your business model in the interest of protecting individual privacy?
   Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, we have made and are continuing to make changes to reduce the amount of data …
   Eshoo: No, are you willing to change your business model in the interest of protecting individual privacy?
   Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, I’m not sure what that means.

   In other words, they want to preserve their business model and keep things exactly as they are, even if they are probably in violation of a 2011 US FTC decree.
   The BBC World Service News had carried the hearings but, as far as I know, little made it on to the nightly TV here.
   This is either down to the natural news cycle: when Christopher Wylie blew the whistle on Cambridge Analytica in The Observer, it was major news, and subsequent follow-ups haven’t piqued the news editors’ interest in the same way. Or, the media were only outraged as it connected to Trump and Brexit, and now that we know it’s exponentially more widespread, it doesn’t matter as much.
   There’s still hope that the social network can be a force for good, if Zuckerberg and co. are actually sincere about it. If Facebook has this technology, why employ it for evil? That may sound a naïve question, but if you genuinely were there to better humankind (and not rate your female Harvard classmates on their looks) and you were sitting on a motherlode of user data, wouldn’t you ensure that the platform were used to create greater harmony between people rather than sow discord and spur murder? Wouldn’t you refrain from bragging that you have the ability to influence elections? The fact that Facebook doesn’t, and continues to see us as units to be milked in the matrix, should worry us a great deal more than an 87 million-user data breach.

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